... and other interesting observations about unplanned solo travel on a tight time frame with huge distances to cover:
Travel in Europe is an interesting phenomenon. You have the ability to cover large distances incredibly easily, whether it be by bus, plane, train, boat or car. Until I arrived in Helsinki, my main method of transport was bus. Interrailing seemed like a great idea until I discovered that it would cost twice as much for me to do it as I am not an EU citizen. On the advice of friends who had already travelled around Europe, I decided not to plan too much and rely on busses, which actually have been quite cheap so far.
The road from Paris to Prague was an enlightening one. Why from Paris to Prague? Helsinki is not as accessible as other parts of Europe. Flying it had to be, and of course, if it had to be by plane, I had to find the cheapest country to fly from. Which was the Czech Republic. Using google maps and a calendar, I figured out it wouldn't be too taxing to spend a week or so getting from A to B (or from P to P). Obviously I didn't take into account just how many hours I would spend on busses.
But so far no experience on a bus has been as bad as the time I was on a bus in South America and a kid shat their pants; in the same bus that the ventilation from the toilets wasn't working so the allocated seat I was in stank like ... Bus toilet ... Which was really unfortunate for my friend, who had been recently food poisoned from a chicken sandwich sold in the bus station. Adventures...
Anyway, I already booked a flight from Prague to Helsinki, because I had a few dates I was aiming for. One date was to reach Helsinki for my friend's graduation. Before I found out when I needed to be back in NZ, I was thinking of heading back to the 'mainland' via the Baltic States, but then I realised I would have to be back in NZ earlier and so ended up plotting my way through Sweden to arrived in Denmark to catch another friend after she finished exams and before she headed of on an overseas adventure herself.
And that is why I travelled through Scandinavia.
I got to experience the best weather Europe has to offer in Summer - torrential rain and flooding.
The arrival in Helsinki marked the farthest point I have ever been from New Zealand, not a big achievement considering every place I had been in Europe has always been 'the most distance away'. And every time someone asks where I am from, and I answer with New Zealand, there are two answers I get. Number one is 'that's so far away' and number two is 'ah, I'm going/have been to Australia'. That's great that NZ is considered a part of Australian to so many foreigners, and they're always surprised when I say it's the same distance between the two as it is from Spain to Turkey. Nearly.
Helsinki airport was a plethora of blonde, tanned Finnish mums with their muscular husbands and blond children who were possible models. Judging from the weather outside, and the fact that were obviously sun kissed, the tan was most definitely from holidaying in sunnier spots than Central Europe. While they all picked up their nicely coordinated suitcase from the conveyer belt, I waited for my understated grey and blue 50L pack and looked a lot less glam carrying it through the airport, because of the invariable boob-squash from the front straps and the tummy-squash from the hip strap, that I couldn't adjust to make any lower because apparently if I buy a backpack in Spain it's going to be made for the average Spaniard, who is shorter than me. (That's the first impression I make on most people I meet, a sneans-wearing, backwards-cap toting gal with a backpack on her back and a backpack on her front, probably with a slightly lost expression on her face. Hi, I'm Anita).
I was luckily that my friend was there to pick me up from the airport in her car, so the time spent walking in the rain was limited. That evening, I went to catch up with another friend in a bar in Helsinki. I was amazed at how early it still was. Then I looked at my watch and realised no, it was not early, the sun sets at about 11pm in Helsinki.
I awoke with a start by my bedroom being very very light and thought that I'd overslept and missed out on doing activities. Only to realise that not only does the sun set late, it rises early and it was only 4.30am. Back to sleep!
The rain continued in the morning, and I got absolutely saturated walking to the train station. By the time I got off the train and walked to the main square it had eased a bit, so I took shelter by stepping inside the church that crowns the plaza. Unlike fancy Catholic Churches, it was understated and 'functional' (my favourite adjective to describe Helsinki). Everything there seemed to be built for function, not for show. I tend to notice odd little things about cities (not because they're odd themselves, but because they're odd things to notice), and my favourite odd thing to notice about Helsinki was the double windows - needed for the insulation against the extraordinarily cold winters they have. The other thing I oddly noticed was the upside down broom heads, used to dust snow off shoes before entering shops and cafes and the like.
I exited the church and the sun was starting to show! So naturally walked along the waterfront, which was lined with little tented stalls selling berries, snow peas, stone fruit and Scandinavian food like salmon soup and hot dogs. Huge cruise ships dominated the background, and distant green specks of islands in the archipelago.
The sun was well and truly shining when I walked to a cafe to get a coffee, and from another church built on a hill there was a spectacular view of a harbour and tall colourful houses built along the waterfront.
That evening was a party for my friend's graduation, which we celebrated by having a lovely meal of salads, a quiche-type thing, rye bread, champagne, beer and cider and an excellent Finnish musician, who played songs in Finnish that everyone enjoyed listening too and dancing to in the lounge.
On Saturday morning we ventured out to the Natural History Museum, a stone church and Suomelani, a little island that appeared to be a genuine hobbiton. The NHM was full of dioramas from different periods of history, and toddlers whose parents were taking them on a weekend excursion. They had a section dedicated to NZ birds, so I felt at home there for a few minutes.
The stone church was something quite different. You notice the reddish rock appearing a lot in Scandinavia, and this church was large and round and built into the rock. Being a rainy day, there was even water dripping down the sides. The roof let in a lot of light, because it was a mixture of timber and glass.
We took a boat to the island - apparently popular with Finnish high school students who go there to drink. It had cute little houses, a church, and hundreds of what looked like houses built into the bumpy grass. We were lucky with the weather on that count - on a sunny day you can wait for ages to catch the ferry to get there and back, but we were able to get straight on and off.
I had a bus to catch to get to Turku, on the other side of Finland - where my ferry to Stockholm left from. And I was also lucky enough to have another friend from Finland to meet there. We knew each other from when he did a exchange to NZ the year afterI did my exchange to Chile. It was a really cool chance to catch up, ride a bike into town to meet his friends at a cafe, and yet again wake up frightfully early because of the brightness.
Then it was onwards to Stockholm.
Sorry about the lack of photos - I actually can't put any on the blog because of not having a proper computer - but seeing as most of you are reading this via my Facebook page you can see travel photos a plenty. And if you're not, considering a cheeky add on Insta - @anitasidney